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Ghailani Jury Insulated From All Terror News

Assistant US Attorney Nicholas Lewin, foreground, gives his opening statement to the jury in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, left, in Manhattan Federal Court 12 October 2010 (file photo)

The judge in the New York City trial of accused terrorist Ahmed Ghailani has moved to insulate jurors from all news and information related to terrorism.

Proceedings at the Ahmed Ghailani trial began Monday with a discussion led by Judge Lewis Kaplan with defense and prosecution attorneys about the impact on juror impartiality that Friday's news about an attempt to ship bombs from Yemen to the United States might have.

Kaplan noted Yemen also is an element of the Ghailani trial. Another similarity is the explosive PETN, which was found in the devices shipped from Yemen and in residue from the 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

During its opening argument, the prosecution alleged that Ghailani told his family he was leaving Tanzania for Yemen just before the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salam. A witness testified last week that an alleged Ghailani co-conspirator said he was moving to Yemen just prior to the attack.

The prosecution argued the trial should proceed, saying no juror should be concerned about Ghailani's conduct since his arrest six years ago and Friday's incident in Yemen. Judge Kaplan said almost anything related to terror could have a vague relationship to the ongoing trial, adding that it likely would not have any prejudicial effect.

Defense attorneys said neither side wants a mistrial and insisted the judge ask jurors if they can remain impartial.

Kaplan polled the jury to find out how many members heard, read or saw anything about the bombs. Sixteen of the 12 jurors and six alternates did.

Lawyers for both sides, along with the judge, then asked each juror in private what they had heard about the incident. Kaplan determined there was no prejudice, but extended his warning that jurors avoid all news about terrorism as such. His instructions at the outset of the trial were to avoid only information outside the courtroom that is related to the Ghailani trial.

The prosecution called as a witness retired FBI agent Gerald Bamel, who testified he found a book with Ghailani's name in it, as well as a blasting cap in an armoire he searched at 15 Amani Street in Dar es Salam.

Ghailani and alleged co-conspirators reportedly stayed at that address. The defense questioned Bamel about his procedure, drawing a rebuke from Kaplan. The judge rejected the attorney's implication that the evidence was unlawfully obtained. He also told the jury that all evidence presented at 15 Amani Street was collected according to U.S. and Tanzanian law.